Concern after STRB is told to ensure pay rises are ‘affordable’

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Despite Theresa May’s declaration that ‘austerity is over’, the education secretary's remit to the STRB seems to dash hopes of a significant rise in 2019. Pete Henshaw takes a look

The letter from education secretary Damian Hinds setting out the remit for the 2019/20 teachers’ pay award has been described as “very worrying”.

Sent to the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB), the letter once again emphasises the need for caution in considering what pay increase teachers should get in September 2019.

This is despite the lifting of the one per cent public sector pay cap and prime minister Theresa May having announced last month that “austerity is over”.

In the letter, Mr Hinds asks Dr Patricia Rice, chair of the STRB, to report back by May 2019 with their pay recommendations.

He writes: “The government has adopted a more flexible approach to public sector pay, to address areas of skills shortages and in return for improvements to public sector productivity. However, in reaching your recommendations on the 2019/20 pay award, you will want to ensure they are affordable.”

He continues: “I consider it important that you give careful consideration to whether recommendations are affordable across the school system as a whole.

“This year, I also request that you describe in your final report what steps you have taken to ensure affordability has been given due consideration when reaching your recommendations.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is concerned. General secretary Paul Whiteman said the letter was “very worrying”. He explained: “It already sounds as though the government knows it will not have sufficient money to fund a real-terms pay rise for all teachers again next year. The one per cent public sector pay cap may be gone, but austerity clearly isn’t. In effect, the STRB will once again be impossibly constrained.

“The STRB has already completed a rigorous and detailed consideration of the labour market last year and they concluded that pay was a significant factor in the retention of existing teachers and school leaders.

“They agreed that an above-inflation pay rise was needed for all pay grades. In the absence of new money for schools from the Treasury, the government chose to ignore these recommendations. This letter provides no assurances that they won’t do the same next year.”

There is still anger that the Department for Education (DfE) rejected the STRB’s recommendations for the 2018/19 pay award – the first time this has happened in 27 years.

In July, the STRB recommended that all pay and allowance ranges for teachers and school leaders should be increased by 3.5 per cent. However, the DfE only gave the main pay range (about 43.5 per cent of the teacher workforce) this rise, with the upper pay scale getting two per cent and leaders 1.5 per cent.

There was further controversy after a DfE grant of £508 million to fund the pay rises only provided enough to cover a proportion of the planned rises, with ministers arguing that schools should have already budgeted for one per cent.
It has also been revealed this week that the DfE’s decision to allocate this additional grant funding to schools based on pupil numbers has left many facing a significant shortfall.

An analysis published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) finds that 33 per cent of schools will receive between five and 25 per cent less than the cost of the salary increase, while 29 per cent will receive between five and 25 per cent more. And six per cent of schools will receive over 25 per cent less than they need, while another six per cent will get over 25 per cent more.

The EPI also warns that schools in disadvantaged areas could suffer disproportionately: “Schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged pupils are more likely to both employ teachers on the main pay scale and maintain smaller class sizes. The DfE’s allocation method flies in the face of the past 20 years of government policy that attempts to provide greater funding to schools with a disadvantaged intake.”

The NAHT says that disparities in the grant funding as well as uncertainty over how much schools are to be hit by increased pension contributions could push some schools past breaking point.

Mr Whiteman continued: “When your budget is balanced on a knife-edge, even a small, unforeseen overspend can be very difficult to absorb. It is particularly concerning that schools serving the most disadvantaged communities are likely to suffer the most.”

This year, the STRB also called for an opportunity to review the classroom teacher pay framework in light of recruitment and retention issues in certain phases and subjects.

In his letter, Mr Hinds said he intends to issue a separate remit to the STRB in “the new year” to carry out this work. He wrote: “This will ask for your recommendations on how the teacher pay framework can be further reformed to ensure it is providing a clear career pathway for classroom teachers, is suitably differentiated to meet current challenges and how remaining rigidities can be reformed to create a more attractive offer for teachers at all career stages.”

Mr Whiteman added: “Insufficient school funding is one of the main reasons that school leaders are finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff. Only sufficient funding from the Treasury, including a fully funded pay rise for all pay grades, can solve this."

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